Locals battle to be next American Ninja with Philly home field advantage


This week, NBC launched the eighth season of American Ninja Warrior, a reality TV competition featuring amateur athletes. The season was taped, in part, in Philadelphia at an abandoned power plant in Port Richmond.

The temporary course of floating steps, the log grip, the warped wall, etc, was constructed under the Betsy Ross Bridge on a narrow strip of land between the Delaware River and the abandoned Richmond Generating Station, looming like an industrial Greek temple.

“We found this place, and we said, ‘It’s perfect,'” said executive director Kent Weed. “We can light it, it’s gorgeous. It has a great look at night. It’s got history; it’s one of the oldest power plants in America.”

Last summer more 7.1 million viewers watched American Ninja Warrior, a spin-off of the popular Japanese show, Sasuke. One hundred and thirty contestants from around the country came to Philadelphia for two nights of qualifying rounds. Fifteen finalists will go to Las Vegas to compete for the $1 million prize.

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One of the runners is an emergency room physician in Delaware County, Dr. Richard Shoemaker, 40 years old with four kids, who competed last year on a lark and made it all the way to Vegas.

“The best part about this and being an emergency room doctor, when I see kids the nurses tell them their doctor is a ninja,” said Shoemaker. “It completely changes the dynamic. I come in, we high five, we talk about the show, and they are set at ease.”

Shoemaker is competing against younger guys like Jamie Rahn, 28, of Barrington, New Jersey, who runs a parkour gym in Cherry Hill. He has been competing for six years, traveling to Venice, St Louis, Orlando, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh, making it to the final rounds in Vegas three times. This is the first time the taping has been in his backyard.

“It’s awesome that it’s here. I can sleep in my own bed, which is very nice,” said Rahn, dressed in a super hero costume with spiky, neon-green hair. “More of my students can come, which is great. That love and support you can feel makes a world of difference.”

There are also cancer survivors, a star college football player who gave up a promising career after too many concussions, a former stripper who is suing her former employer for back pay. Anybody could be the next American Ninja Warrior.

“You don’t have to be a guy who played in NFL, or played professional sports. All you have to do is have the ability to imagine yourself in the future,” said host Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, a former defensive end for the Oakland Raiders. “When you see people who have overcome cancer, depression, or alcoholism, when you see them come out here and have success you think, ‘Wow, I can do this myself!'”

The Philadelphia episode of American Ninja Warrior airs June 27.

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